Group Identity Theory

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= this is the overall concept I have chosen to use to identity and discuss the new type of identity politics that expressed itself in the events at Evergreen State College in 2017, and which reduce people to their group identity within a intersectional framework (MB)

Contextual Quotes

1.

"Our concerns therefore start with the fact that this theoretical faith is deeply embedded in seemingly legitimate scholarship, contains within its own framework the impossibility of legitimate disagreement and is expanding beyond the problem of its systematic institutional incorporation in our institutions of higher education to wider society."

Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay [1]


2.

"Over the two decades I’ve lived here, I watched a powerful Idea spread amongst my friends, family and institutions. As best as I can tell, it is a cocktail of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, Post Modernism and Identity Politics.

For the sake of brevity, let’s call it: The Ideology.

Here are some of the basic tenants of The Ideology:

  • Western society is primarily organized as a collection of dominance hierarchies.
  • Racism is hard-baked into society. It is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out. This is part of a systemic problem that is everywhere, always, and all-pervasive.
  • All white people are racist, and white people cannot be subjected to racism. If you are white and successful, it’s primarily because society is structured to bestow you with unearned privilege. If you are not white and not successful, it’s primarily because society is structured to keep you down.

I believe this Ideology was born from good intentions. It aims to create a socially just world. To honor and repair the wounds of our past. To include the disenfranchised, and marginalized. To call out and challenge systematic oppression, and take a stand for the dignity, access, and opportunity of all. I wholeheartedly share these intentions.

I’ve also come to see this way of thinking as problematic and dangerous. It is based in a flawed worldview, and it perpetuates the very problems it aims to address.

MY TRUE ADVANTAGE: Even though I am a brown, male, Arab immigrant, I have a huge advantage in life: I do not see the world through the lens of the Ideology. My parents didn’t raise me with the idea that the world is racist and setup against me. My friends and community did not train me to mistrust whiteness or any other color. My teachers did not sell me the idea of an invisible, pervasive force arraigned against me. In other words, I was not brought up with the lens of a victim.”

- Shereef Bishay [2]


Description

Steven J. Lawrence:

"Though the authors of Cynical Theories don’t use the term group identity essentialism, their book offers some evidence that the rapid spread of group identity essentialism in recent years has been anything but casual. Lindsay and Pluckrose contend that the spread of the behavioral patterns around what I am calling group identity essentialism has been intimately connected with the equally rapid spread of the formal authority of the system of ideas that Lindsay and Pluckrose analyze in their book. Over time, this system of ideas has coalesced into group identity theories that possess enough moral coherence, academic polish and intellectual respectability to be taken as timeless, unquestioned truths about the true nature of the inner life of all human beings—including the inner lives of human beings who belong to groups that we consider different from our own.

Many will agree that there are unsettling implications for a society in which the belief in the shared character traits of people from the same group identity category has been formally legitimized through systematic instruction (education), relentless exposure (traditional media and social media), and official public policy (government). But, some scholars argue that there is value and validity in acknowledging the differences between different group identities, and that it can be legitimate to exploit group identity essentialism by exaggerating those differences when there is a need to remove a specific identity group from political power so that we can therefore remove that identity group’s ability to oppress other people.

So, group identity essentialism has its defenders among scholars." (https://groundexperience.substack.com/p/group-identity-essentialism)

Characteristics

  • Shereef Bishay:

"Here are some of the basic tenants of The Ideology:

  • Western society is primarily organized as a collection of dominance hierarchies.
  • Racism is hard-baked into society. It is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out. This is part of a systemic problem that is everywhere, always, and all-pervasive.
  • All white people are racist, and white people cannot be subjected to racism. If you are white and successful, it’s primarily because society is structured to bestow you with unearned privilege. If you are not white and not successful, it’s primarily because society is structured to keep you down."

(https://medium.com/@shereef/the-struggle-is-not-always-real-2029b622bd97)


The Three Key Ideas

by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay:

"Among the progenitors of these ideas, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (and the academic paper that preceded it by seven years) is a particularly influential text within the discourse analysis branch of critical race theory. Set alongside Peggy MacIntosh’s White Privilege and Barbara Applebaum’s White Complicity, it closes the door on any possibility of arguing against a critical conception of society, as outlined in the confessional creed above. These ideas form a web of theory that understands society as being constructed by a pervasive racial bias, which needs to be continuously uncovered and addressed.

Together, these three ideas shut out the possibility of engaging this theoretical web in good faith unless one agrees with it. MacIntosh’s conception of privilege contains the idea that it always seeks to maintain and justify itself. Applebaum’s notion of complicity insists that remaining silent or stepping away when confronted with what these theoretical priests call racism is to be complicit in racism." (https://areomagazine.com/2019/01/20/the-influence-of-anti-racist-scholarship-activism-on-evergreen-college/)


Core Tenets of Anti-Racist Scholarship-Activism

by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay:

  • Racism exists today in both traditional and modern forms
  • Racism is an institutionalized, multilayered, multilevel system that distributes unequal power and resources between white people and people of color, as socially identified, and disproportionately benefits whites.
  • All members of society are socialized to participate in the system of racism, albeit in varied social locations.
  • All white people benefit from racism regardless of intentions.
  • No-one chose to be socialized into racism so no-one is bad, but no-one is neutral.
  • To not act against racism is to support racism.
  • Racism must be continually identified, analyzed and challenged. No-one is ever done.
  • The question is not Did racism take place? but rather How did racism manifest in that situation?
  • The racial status quo is comfortable for most whites. Therefore, anything that maintains white comfort is suspect.
  • The racially oppressed have a more intimate insight via experiential knowledge into the system of race than their racial oppressors. However, white professors will be seen as having more legitimacy, thus positionality must be intentionally engaged.
  • Resistance is a predictable reaction to anti-racist education and must be explicitly and strategically addressed.

These are the core tenets developed by scholar-activists Heather Bruce, Robin DiAngelo, Gyda Swaney (Salish) and Amie Thurber at the National Race and Pedagogy Conference at Puget Sound University." (https://areomagazine.com/2019/01/20/the-influence-of-anti-racist-scholarship-activism-on-evergreen-college/)


Discussion

Why this non-falsifiable theory is really a ideology

by Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay:

"If disagreeing, remaining silent and going away are all behaviors which indicate fragility, complicity and privilege, it becomes clear that the only way for a white person not to be fragile or complicit around the subject of racism is to remain present and positively affirm the creed being offered by the hucksters professing this theoretical faith. Far from a benign doctrine of equality and justice, this requires them to agree to the assertion that, by virtue of their inherently privileged identities, their racial worldviews are inherently racist and uphold a system of racism. This is precisely what Nayna shows to have begun to be instituted at Evergreen college. For those who know the story, it was this ideology posing as theory that led to the bizarre and frightening group behavior that came to a dangerous peak after Professor Weinstein objected to a day of racial segregation.

Are DiAngelo and other academics focused on these concepts of problematic whiteness correct about this? Is society in general and Evergreen College in particular dominated by systems of racism, which disadvantage people of color? Are white people who feel very sure they are not harboring deep-rooted racial assumptions they need to dig out of themselves and reflect about publicly (including on their self-evaluations to be further evaluated by university administrators) simply being obstructive due to a need to preserve their own sense of themselves as good, moral people? Do they support racism by failing to divine its presence in every interaction between white people and people of color and within themselves? Must their resistance be countered rigorously with insistence? With anger? With punishment? With violence? All of those responses appear in Nayna’s documentary, and far from being collegiate, these are profoundly fundamentalist attitudes, which have more in common with the behaviors of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (which infamously protested military funerals as a way of standing against gay rights) than with a liberal higher education—or education at all, for that matter." ((https://areomagazine.com/2019/03/15/teaching-to-transgress-rage-and-entitlement-at-evergreen-college/?))



Group Identity Essentialism and the Endorsement of Social Hierarchies

Steven J. Lawrence:

"In the 2017 paper, “Essentialism Promotes Racial Prejudice by Increasing Endorsement of Social Hierarchies”, researchers shine a bright light on the connections between and among group identity essentialism, prejudice, and social hierarchies through several controlled studies.

The focus of the study was on anti-Black attitudes, examining the links between group identity essentialism, social hierarchy endorsement, and how they are linked with “negative attitudes toward lower status social groups”. The study involved both Black and white participants.

In the earlier phases of the study, the authors discovered a connection between essentialism and “belief-based prejudice”.

Essentialism causally increased prejudice by enhancing endorsement of social hierarchies. Among all participants, the induction of essentialism led to greater endorsement of social hierarchies, and, in White participants, to stronger prejudice toward Blacks. These findings provide new evidence that the manipulation of essentialist thinking can alter belief-based prejudice. Furthermore, the effect of essentialism on prejudice in White participants was mediated by changes in hierarchy endorsement, providing initial support for the hypothesis that essentialism increases prejudice toward Blacks by increasing endorsement of existing social hierarchies.

These findings seem to indicate that when group identity essentialism is formally introduced as a legitimate belief on any scale, the justification for the existence of social hierarchies is thus also introduced, and for those who already have essentialist beliefs about a specific identity group, the justification for the existence of social hierarchies is further reinforced.

An important aspect of the study’s findings is that, depending on the context, the recognition and adjustments for the causal relationships between all three elements—essentialism, prejudice, endorsing social hierarchies—can be applied to a wide variety of identity groups.

On the impact of these relationships on the continuation of oppressive systems through the perpetuation of existing social hierarchies, the authors conclude the following:

These results revealed a causal effect of essentialism on social hierarchy endorsement, which in turn explained the effect of essentialism on prejudice. These findings suggest that by leading individuals to view social hierarchies as objectively determined and natural, essentialism increases the tendency to endorse, and perhaps perpetuate, existing hierarchies through continued prejudice toward lower status social groups.

Most interesting of all in terms of the major themes in the book Cynical Theories, this study confirms the presence of “Black in-group devaluation” among some Blacks and how this self-devaluation is related to anti-Black attitudes on the societal level.

The authors of this study make it clear that the distinctions between what I’m calling group identity essentialism and prejudice (negative attitudes) are real. One can conceivably believe something negative about an entire identity group without having negative feelings towards that group. This also means that one can conceivably believe something negative to be true about their own identity group without having negative feelings towards their own group.

But, the key components to recognize are that:

a) the endorsement of social hierarchies effectively leads to negative attitudes (prejudice) towards other groups and/or one’s own group and

b) the endorsement of social hierarchies is directly caused by the essentialist beliefs themselves, which means that essentialist beliefs always carry potentially negative consequences.

The authors put it this way:

Our research additionally offers a new explanation for why Black individuals sometimes express negative attitudes toward their own group. That is, essentialism—a domain-general cognitive tendency that does not directly pertain to attitudes—can be readily applied to beliefs about race in a way that may lead Black individuals to devalue their racial group through endorsement of social hierarchies.

In the end, the authors conclude that this study can provide some insight into the actual mechanisms through which group identity essentialism perpetuates itself, including the anti-Black prejudice that is expressed against Blacks from outside groups, and the way that this essentialism is experienced by some Blacks against their own group.

The chief mechanism is the endorsement of the concept and practice of social group hierarchies, which the authors suggest can help us understand the negative attitudes some people hold against other social groups:

By elucidating the role of [social] hierarchy endorsement, our findings identify an unexamined source of Black in-group devaluation and suggest a new approach to buffering Black individuals from its effects. Moreover, while this study focused on anti-Black attitudes, the links between essentialist beliefs, hierarchy endorsement, and negative attitudes toward lower status social groups suggests that this general framework might explain negative attitudes toward other social groups perceived to be low status as well. [Italics and bold emphasis, mine]

Looking at the long view, in light of these studies, and with regard to the rapid proliferation of identitarian ideologies across the political spectrum in recent years, it has become clear to scholars and to the general public that group identity essentialism has become a big problem that we must all acknowledge and work together to find solutions for.

And given the accelerant of social media rage and the tribal in-group signaling that comes with that rage, it’s fair to say that our world is in serious trouble. What potentially makes this so much worse is the shallow thinking that has resulted from social media rage and addiction and the loss of the kind of concentration and deep cognitive study that genuine understanding has always required. It is not an overstatement to say that if we do not find a way out of this problem, we may eventually find ourselves and our societies well past the point of return as we fall ever deeper into the rabbit hole of scorched earth politics and extreme protest in place of collaboration, hope, charity and human kindness." (https://groundexperience.substack.com/p/group-identity-essentialism)